Herbtastic Pork

parsley sage rosemary and thyme90 degrees, you say? Grill, here we come. A cornmeal and herb crusted pork loin made for an easy-peasy Saturday dinner. Plus, it employed generous amounts of POD’s thyme and parsley; PID’s (plants in den) rosemary; and POF’s (plants out front) sage.

And yes, that’s parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, in case you’re keeping track.

Bring it On Home

Philly’s extended forecast predicts some chilly nights, with temperatures dipping into the 40s. So, like the geese who use the tennis courts at FDR for target practice as they move south, it’s time for POD’s herbs to migrate as well.

The husband’s May dreams of herbes de Provence never blossomed (stupid lavender) but the thyme and tarragon are far too valuable (after all, roast chicken season is looming) to leave to the elements.

How to bring it on home:

  • Transplant before temperatures become too cold — certainly before the first frost
  • Move your plants from the sun to the shade for a few days prior to the trek indoors
  • Don’t be afraid to be a little brutal. Using a very dull ex-fillet knife, simply slice the herbs into a manageable size. Keep as much of the plant’s root system intact as you can. In this case, all of the tarragon made the cut while only about a third of the thyme did. The rest remains in its pot on deck and will be left to fend for itself throughout the winter.
  • Look at the plants very closely for bugs and other nasties. You certainly don’t want to bring outdoor pests indoors to infest your delicate houseplants.
  • Snip off a decent amount of the transplanted herby goodness, so your plant’s energy is devoted to surviving the transplanting trauma, rather than sustaining existing greenery.
  • Ideally, once you’ve repotted them in fresh nutritious soil, you’ll be able to isolate the plants¬† for a couple of days in an unheated room, with the windows open and the door closed. This will minimize the shocking impact of the outdoor-to-indoor temperature change. If you can’t do this (which is this lazy gardener’s version of reverse hardening), bring them inside for a few increasing hours each day and then return them to their outdoor environment. After a week or two, they’ll be house-trained.
  • Give your transplanted herbs a good watering and place them in a sunny window. They probably won’t produce as vigorously indoors in the winter as they do outdoors in the summer, but you’ll have enough for your roasted chickens and won’t have to buy new plants in the spring.

It Tastes Better When You Share

Each year POD grows two containers of basil — a quantity that pretty successfully sustains the garlic-breathing monsters who live below the deck.

Sweet, Sweet Basil
Sweet, Sweet Basil

Something that’s nearly as enjoyable as the wonderful husband’s pesto, is sharing bags and bags of extra basil with fellow monsters. This year’s basil wasn’t quite as prolific as it was in previous years, but a co-worker was just bestowed with bag chock-full of green goodness.

What a terrific thing, vicarious pesto: the same joy (almost) without any of the accompanying garlic-consciousness.

A recipe for growing basil:

  • Some like it hot — basil thrives in full sun and likes the heat. With the waning sunlight, POD expects basil’s day’s are limited.
  • Heavy harvesting — to keep your basil full and bushy, harvest it frequently.
  • No flowers for you — do your best to prevent the plant from flowering. If it does flower, pinch them off. You want all the plant’s energy devoted to leaves, not flowers.
  • Watered, not wet — basil plants are thirsty buggers, but they hate perpetually soggy soil. Well-drained pots are crucial.
  • Feed me — like every other plant in the garden, basil needs to be fertilized to produce those deep green tasty leaves.

Toys!

Nothing says summer quite like nice sugar cone packed with mint chocolate chip ice cream. Or coffee ice cream. Or caramel ice cream. Or strawberry ice cream. Or…well, you get the idea.

About once every other summer or so, POD’s family would dust off the hand-churning antique ice cream maker, stuff the bucket full of ice and rock salt and crank until their arms screamed for mercy. That same maker moved from Michigan to Philly with POD and somehow, sadly, hasn’t been touched since. Okay, maybe once. But that’s it.

Finally, we dropped the $30 for a small electric ice cream maker.  Since then, cholesterol levels have skyrocketed and the freezer has been stuffed with salted caramel, mint chocolate chip (minus the food coloring), and strawberry ice cream.

What does this have to do with plants on deck? Mint.

mint ice cream base
mint ice cream base

Parsley, Rescued

Christmas brought a nice little package from the Mother-In-Law. In it was a lovely December pick-me-up: parsley in a bag. Although that particular mid-winter experiment failed miserably (um, POD forgot about it during the week-long dark germination phase), POD had the foresight not to use all the seeds and planted the remainder on deck in late May.parsley

To great success! After soaking the remaining seeds (about 8-12, if memory serves) in warm water overnight, then planting them in a shady area, and moving them (after germination) into the part-sun portion of the deck extension, they’ve been thriving. Most recently they were the star of this particular pantry meal:

Chickpeas with Tomatoes and Almonds
Serves 4-6

2 cans chick peas, rinsed and drained
2-3 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, grated or very finely minced
14 oz plum tomatoes, (canned are fine) drained and chopped
1/8-1/4 tsp. sugar
generous pinch of saffron (40 threads or so)
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/4 tsp. Kosher or sea salt
1/3 c. toasted almonds OR, even better, marcona almonds
1/4-1/2 c. flatleaf parsley, chopped
2 c. chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 lemon, juiced

1) Drain and rinse the chick peas
2) Heat olive oil over medium and saute the onion until it’s soft and nicely golden. About 30 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and sugar, simmer 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat
3) In a mortar, combine the garlic and salt and mix until a smooth garlic paste has formed. Add the saffron, almonds, and parsley to the garlic paste and grind to a thick paste.
4) Add the parsley mixture and chicken (or vegetable stock) to the onions and tomatoes. Return the mixture to a biol over medium-high and simmer until it has reduced to a thick sauce. About 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and lemon juice to taste.

Pesto alla POD

Here’s a super easy (truly, it is) weekday meal that puts your over-producing herbs and under-producing (but adequate) Tumbling Tom and Gold Nugget cherry tomatoes to good use.

Serves 2 — preparation time appx. 20 minutes

Tumbling Tom and Gold Nugget Cherry Tomatoes
Tumbling Tom and Gold Nugget Cherry Tomatoes

Ingredients:
Handful of almonds, lightly toasted (maybe a 1/4 or so) and chopped

1/2 c. fresh herbs (tarragon, rosemary, and thyme), chopped
OR 3/4 c. fresh basil, if you want to be a little more traditional

1 clove garlic, chopped

pinch of red pepper flakes

10-15 cherry tomatoes
salt and pepper

8 oz. spaghettini or capellini

parmigiano-reggiano, grated

Directions
1) Bring a large pot of water to boil. When it boils, add a generous dash or four of salt to the water.
2) While you’re waiting for the water to boil, stick the almonds, herbs (or basil), garlic, and red-pepper flakes in a blender (or a food processor, if you own one) and blend until chunky. Drizzle in about 1/4 c. olive oil until pureed, but still chunky. Add the cherry tomatoes and process until incorporated. The sauce should look a little like a bolognese — thick, rich-looking, and yellowish/reddish/orange. Season with salt and pepper.
3) Boil the pasta. Just before it’s done, scoop about about 3 tbs of the cooking water and dump it into a large bowl. Drain the pasta.
4) Scoop the sauce into the large bowl that contains your cooking water. Stir until smooth and the water is incorporated.
5) Add the hot pasta and toss until it’s coated. Serve. Top with cheese.

Hello, My Pretties

POD began with visions of gorgeous flowers, cascading from well-designed containers. And, for the first few years, visitors to the little blue deck were greeted by a riot of color.

Then, almost surreptitiously, a basil plant slipped in, then a jalapeno and Mr. Stripey…Now, the little blue deck sports almost entirely vegetables. There are enough flowers to encourage pollination, but great gobs of satisfaction — culinary, environmental and yes, aesthetic satisfaction — can be derived from growing vegetables in containers.

The red lettuce surrounding these spacemaster cucumbers and Minnesota Midget melons provide a nice splash of red against a small sea of soon-to-be towering green.
The red lettuce surrounding these spacemaster cucumbers and Minnesota Midget melons provide a nice splash of red against a small sea of soon-to-be towering green.
This lone glazed terra cotta pot stars tarragon, thyme and lavender. Contrasting greens, varied heights and textures combine to present a pretty striking container.
This lone glazed terra cotta pot stars tarragon, thyme and lavender. Contrasting greens, varied heights and textures combine to present a pretty striking container. (Sorry the picture isn't so hot!)

Penne With Vodka

With the basil still recovering from the grilled pizza adventure, tarragon stepped in to give this pasta a surprising bite.

Tarragon
Tarragon

Penne With Vodka

3 Tbs olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2-3 large cloves garlic, minced
28 oz. tomatoes, lightly drained and chopped
1/4 c. vodka
1/4 – 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
black pepper to taste
1/2 c. heavy cream
tarragon (or basil) to taste
1 lb penne (cooked until al dente)

1) Get the pasta started.
1b) Grab the vodka and make a martini.

2) Heat the olive oil over medium heat, add onions and stir until the onions have softened, about 5 minutes.

3) Add garlic, stir for about a minute.

4) Toss in tomatoes, vodka, and red pepper flakes, and black pepper. Simmer 10 minutes

5) Pour in cream, heat through.

6) Add tarragon or basil, mix with pasta.

7) Thank the chef. Make happy noises. Enjoy.

Herbes de Provence

Tarragon, Thyme, and LavenderAs much as POD enjoys the vegetables produced from its little containers, no meal would be complete without a good herbal uplift.

Herbs have proven to be easy to grow, resilient, flexible, and disease-resistant. In other words, if you’re new to this whole gardening thing, grow them.

Then dry them and make yourself some herbes de Provence. Chow has a great recipe for the classic French mixture.